Category Archives: yoga practice

What we do in āsana is not normal or ordinary

definitions of āsana, Part 2

On Leave, Watercolor, Amanda Green

Ās śarīra aṅga vinyāsa

We see here another meaning of ās, meaning ‘seat’ or ‘comfortable seat.’

śarīra – body

aṅga – limb

vinyāsa – a special arrangement

My girls are closing in on the end of the first quarter of their school year and we all seem to have bumped up against the same wall this week.  Hazel announced that she hates school (or at least all the school work). Nora expressed her wall-hitting with a seriously grouchy and argumentative attitude. Dave admitted to feeling a little blue. And when I woke up on Monday morning, I thought, “Here we go again…” I caught myself feeling like Monday was something I had to hold my nose to swallow and that this Monday would be stamped out just like all the Mondays before. I was not excited.  

I practiced yoga that morning, and I’m glad I did because something changed. It didn’t happen instantly, but over time, as I breathed and moved in a special way, I began to feel present. Āsana practice reminded me of something really important – this day, which happens to be a Monday, is the moment I’m alive. In āsana, we connect with what is happening – I’m breathing… I have a body that moves and feelsI can only feel this now So much is happening… So much is possible. Yoga is a practice that helps make the wonder of the moment available again. It helps me remember how I would like to show up for my life. If normal and ordinary feel like going through the motions or ‘getting through the day,’ then practicing āsana in a way that is not ordinary helps me reconnect to what is special about being alive. This kind of practice is vital to having a meaningful life.

This definition of āsana tells us that practice looks different from what is regular and ordinary in other ways, too. If we work at a desk job that is highly analytical, āsana practice might focus on standing postures and have a focus that is more relaxing for the mind.  If we cut hair for a living, standing much of the day, talking to clients, and squeezing and working the hands and wrists, then a quiet practice, reclined postures, and gentle hand and wrist movements in the opposite direction could provide a break from the ordinary. Live alone? You may enjoy attending a regular group class where you get to enjoy the company and companionship of others.  Climb mountains? Drive a bus? Care for small children? Surf? Swim? Work as a cook? Clean houses? There’s a regular or ordinary set of movements that goes along with each of these activities and we look for what is not ordinary when designing an āsana practice.

There’s more to āsana practice than the primary orientation of the postures. For many of us practice is not normal because it’s one of the few times we turn our attention away from what is happening outside of us and direct the attention to something more quiet and subtle within.  Attention to the breath, to the quiet communications of the body and our emotional experience can be a special aspect of āsana practice and a special way of being.

Practice isn’t ordinary. It is special.

Āsana is about being and becoming

Definitions of āsana, Part 1

Almost Three, Watercolor, Amanda Green

The root of the word āsana comes from the sanskrit root, ās. This can mean, “being or becoming.”  If āsana is rooted in being and becoming, what does that tell us about what we are practicing? How does this context and this definition give us guidance for our practice? This is a big topic to kick off our series, but this idea is the container in which all of our other definitions exist, so it is a good place to begin.

When I think about ‘being,’ it feels simple. An apple can be an apple, but it can’t be an orange. Even those weird apples that were at our grocery store a few years ago that had been injected with an artificial grape flavor were still apples. A rotten apple? Still being apple. Apple juice? Still being apple. Being is basic and essential.  The things that were true about my being when I was an infant are true about me now. No matter how we dress it up, how it ails, ages, or changes, we are being until the end.  

Becoming is happening at every moment. What we do and the experiences we have inform our next ones. If we are doing the same things over and over again, then we are becoming the person who acts and reacts in the same way we always have.  If, instead, we have different experiences, then we are becoming a ‘different person’. We can react and respond to things in a fresh way.  This is one of the most hopeful ideas in all of yoga.  Becoming is continually happening. That means we can help to create who we are becoming by choosing and participating in experiences that generate the kinds of feelings we want more of.

Āsana is one of the experiences where we can practice being who and how we want to be. Do we want to be more accepting of our struggles? We can practice acceptance in āsana.  Do we want to have more peace and calm? We can practice āsana in a peaceful and calm way. When our teacher recognizes a pattern of tension, straining, or distraction is present in our practice, they might help us to see that and encourage a better way of practicing.

Daily āsana practice is an experience that can shape the moments that follow, and repeated regularly, it has the potential to shape the way we live out life. With breath and movement (and sometimes sound and intention) as our tools, āsana invites us to become increasingly present and conscious.  This definition reminds us that āsana is doing something to us, and it invites us to experience something of our essential nature. You and I are invited to become who we are.

What makes yoga postures so darn special?

Relaxing, watercolor, Amanda Green

Introduction: Is yoga the same as stretching?

For a long time, my yoga practice was about mastering certain postures.  I worked really hard to stick a handstand.  I went to vinyasa class and wanted so badly to be able to defy gravity and float my feet from downdog to that forward bend at the front of the mat.  Fancy arm balances? Yes, please.  Bend further? No problem. Big, dancer-like transitions between postures that took me high and then low? Bring it. I worked out. I got better at all of these things and even had moments of of feeling that particular kind of strength, balance and presence in my body that I was seeking. I also got increasingly more sensitive, an enduring shoulder injury, way too much flexibility in important joints, and the realization that this kind of practice was not sustainable.

Was I doing yoga? Does the ability to hold a handstand for 30 seconds make someone good at yoga? If I look at a yoga postures in a magazine and try to do the stuff I see, does that count? How we answer these questions depends on how we define yoga practice and what we think āsana (aaah-sun-uh, the practice of postures) is for. In the next few posts, we’ll look at several definitions of āsana, considerations for structuring a practice, and a few of Patañjali’s yoga sūtras that will give us a sense of what postural practice is all about and what we can look forward to when practice is well established.  

Seventeen years after my first yoga class, how I practce āsana is really different from those early years. With the guidance of my teacher and support of peers, my yoga practice is now slow, safe, and satisfying to me in very deep and essential ways. I practice at home, in the quiet. Breath is way more interesting that balancing on my hands. In times when I’ve been injured or in pain, I have ways to stay connected to my practice. And most interestingly, my mind operates much more attentively and peacefully.  I can imagine doing yoga like this for the rest of my life.

Here’s the sneak peak for the series…

Part 1: Āsana is about being and becoming

Part 2: What we do in āsana is not normal or ordinary

Part 3: For Āsana to help us operate in a new way, we have to be willing to have new experiences

Part 4: Āsana reaches all parts of our being

Part 5: Vinyāsa krāma: start where you are and take the necessary steps to reach your goal

Part 6: Prevent future suffering (Yoga Sūtra II.16)

Part 7: Āsana should be stable and comfortable (Yoga Sūtra II.46)

Part 8: Āsana helps us loosen the knots and reduce resistance (Yoga Sūtra II.47)

Part 9: The result of āsana practice: we will not be affected by extremes (Yoga Sūtra II.48)

The Yoga of Stand up Comedy

My husband, Dave, is hilarious and he has a great appreciation for comedy.  His sense of humor made me fall for the guy back in college and it’s a big part of why our relationship and our family life is still so much fun. One of the things Dave looks forward to each year is the Moontower Comedy Festival. It’s a weekend of mostly stand up comedy acts and with our passes around our necks, we get to see a variety of shows over the course of the festival.  Some shows showcase up-and-coming comics who each take the stage for a five-minute set. Mid-size venues feature a line-up of comics who are onstage for ten or fifteen-minutes.  And at the end of each night, the headliners, the comics who have been in the business for a long time, get an hour on stage to stand there and talk…and be funny… with only a microphone. I’m convinced that this is one of the hardest things that anyone could attempt to do, but somehow, the comedians make it look easy.

All the people in the festival are good, but some are really amazing, and those amazing ones always make me think about yoga. We have this idea that yoga happens on a colorful rectangular mat and involves pretzel like postures, but that’s not the real story. Yoga is a way of being and the comedians who flow with their material, timing, and audience embody this state. They are also themselves. Who they are comes through, and they aren’t trying to be anyone else. The Bhagavad Gita says that it’s better to do your own dharma imperfectly then to do someone else’s perfectly. This is true in comedy. In the best acts, the comedian is coming through.

When I’m in one of those audiences, time passes differently. I laugh because I’m connected to the person on stage, the jokes and the stories, and I can relate it to something I know within myself. I’m not the only one who feels it, either. These comics draw the biggest crowds. When we can feel the flow, the yoga, we know it and want to be around it.

How do these comedians get to be so good?  How do they reach this state of yoga?  They don’t get good by standing in front of their bathroom mirrors trying out all their jokes on themselves. It involves hundreds if not thousands of hours practicing their particular craft. They get up in front of crowds for five, and fifteen minutes at a time until they have the chops, the nerves and the material to deliver. They practice doing what they want to be able to do.  Patton Oswalt started doing comedy in 1988.  Colin Quinn – 1984. Chris Hardwick – 1991. Maria Bamford – 1998. I bet all of these people have had moments early in their respective careers in which they felt this flow, this state of yoga. Almost all of us have. But the cool thing is, with practice, it can happen with much more predictability and regularity.  Do it enough and eventually, it is possible to be in this state nearly all of the time.

Yoga’s definition holds a meaningful truth for each of us. We might not aspire to be comedians, but many of us do want to achieve a level of comfort, focused attention and flow within ourselves.  We want to get out of our own way and be ourselves, even if it’s a little messy and imperfect sometimes.  And here’s where our definition of yoga has to expand even further beyond mats and pretzels. The way that we move toward this state of being, a state of yoga, is through practicing yoga. That practice can involve rubber mats, but it doesn’t stop there. Practice supports us most when we bring that way of being in all that we do – into our relationships, the situations we encounter, and the way that we relate to our very own needs, desires, fears and passions. It would be nice if we could watch someone do something amazing and then decide to be there ourselves, but it doesn’t work that way.  We can’t will ourselves to have mastery of a skill or way of being.  The only thing we really can ‘do’ is practice and give ourselves the experience, again and again, of the way we want to be.

As my life shifts and changes … so does this blog

 

Let’s see what’s coming next…

Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking about this blog—how and why I started writing, the friendships and connections that have come because of it, how it has changed as I’ve changed, and where I am now. I’ve taken the last two weeks to see how it feels to pause my weekly writing practice and to reflect on what I’d like it to be now.

This blog started out in 2011 as a way to articulate and better understand things that were happening in my life as a result of yoga. I’d learn something then see it show up in my relationship with my kids or while I was driving or in the midst of an epic battle of house rats, and then take time to put it into words. The process of writing and reflecting provided me with the opportunity to spend more time with some whisp of intuition or to more carefully observe the slippery inner workings of my mind. By attempting to translate the experience or feeling into words, I had something of substance that I could work with and reflect on. It helped make manifest something important yet ephemeral. The process was exhilirating and meaningful. Nearly every week, as I wrote, published, read comments and had conversations my heart would pound in that way that confirmed how important this was to me. Blogging reminded me, in all the right ways, that I was alive, that writing is alive and that I am connected to the people, the ideas, the experiences and the feelings that I want to be connected to.

Flash forward to today, 2017. The experiences, feelings, and insights that were once ephemeral now have substance and staying power in my life. They are foundational to how I operate in my relationships and my teaching. I certainly don’t do it ‘perfectly,’ whatever that might mean, but I am more able to tune in, observe and listen to these more subtle aspects of myself and to operate from that place. Thanks to my friends and teachers at YATNA, my personal practice, and the individual guidance I receive from my yoga mentor, Chase Bossart, I have much of the needed language and framework for understanding what is happening in me and how to respond. Something else has happened, too. I’ve noticed that my attempts to write about all of this aren’t coming as easily. The personal work I’m involved in now is so incredibly intimate and I’m less willing or just less interested in putting into words the mystery of my unfolding spiritual adventure.  This inner work of yoga is really something.

So a change is a-coming. I’ll continue to reflect on what this blog will be for me and for us or maybe we’ll just watch it unfold together as I try out a different format for my posts or shift my focus to something that makes my heart do that thing again. I’ll still write and post, though on less of a fixed schedule. I do hope that we’ll keep in touch in a regular way, dear readers. If you’ve been considering deepening your yoga practice and would like to work together, let’s set up a time to talk – 20 minutes, no charge, and you can ask questions and we can see what we can do together. I’m in Austin, TX, but I’m also online (which means I can meet you anywhere!) CONTACT ME by clicking here.  If you aren’t already on my mailing list, there’s a button on the sidebar of the blog page or you can click here: SIGN UP FOR THE AGY NEWSLETTER  and you’ll get a monthly update on classes I offer, the annual Ojai Women’s retreat, links to yoga research, recipes that support a healthy lifestyle, or other offerings that I think you should hear about. Yay for change. Yay for 2017.

Until next time…

 

Conversations with a tween

The girls are both delighted to be posing with their dad for the Christmas photo!

The girls are both delighted to be posing with their dad for the Christmas photo!

I have a tendency, these days, to talk less. I really value quiet. I like the pauses in conversation to be with what was just said. I like to listen to where people go with their thoughts when given the time. I enjoy being around people and noticing what that feels like, seeing what they do and what I do– maybe listening to breathing.

Though this has been really nice in a lot of relationships, I’m starting to see that it may not be the best strategy with my tween daughter. Hazel doesn’t ask me what I think very often. She’ll tell me something about a friendship or something that makes her laugh, but it’s usually brief and it comes when her mind is there, still with her friend or connected to the funny thing she saw on pinterest. In these moments, I don’t get the feeling that she really wants to talk with me and that leaves me unsure of what to do. If I just sit there quietly, then she’ll eventually wander off. Though she’s not engaging me in conversation with her comments or passing thoughts, she is talking to me. In order to help get a conversation going, I have to push past my enjoyment of quiet and the awkwardness of not knowing exactly what to say and I need to make the effort to engage her. It seems so obvious now that I’m writing it down, which is good. There isn’t much that’s obvious in parenting a tween.

This weekend, I tried it out. Whenever Hazel said something, I thought of it as an invitation to connect. I’d ask her a question or talk about what I thought or a time I felt that way. It rained all weekend, so we spent a lot of time in the house together and I had many opportunities to practice. I’m pretty sure I talked more in one weekend than I average most weeks. It was a different way to be together. I felt closer to her and I could see that this way of connecting was working for her, too. On Sunday night at bedtime, I bent down to kiss her goodnight and give her a big squeeze. She didn’t let go right away, and so we stayed there, quietly hugging, feeling each other breathe. And then, she told me she’d had a really nice weekend. I don’t remember what I said, but I do know that my heart swelled and I felt grateful for her, for the time we spent talking and for all the quiet moments in between.


Happy Thanksgiving. (Be like the sponge)

img_8921

For some of us, gratitude doesn’t come so easily. Or maybe it’s not the gratitude itself, it’s just hard to receive the things that are offered or given. It’s kind of like the dried out sponge. When you try to wipe up some water with it, the hard sponge just pushes the water around. It can’t absorb what’s there. It isn’t until the sponge has a little time under the running faucet that the outer layers get soaked and expand. The water makes it’s way deeper and deeper until, eventually, the very center of the sponge gets to be pliable and soft and absorbant. After it’s soaked, it can be squeezed out and that’s when it becomes it’s most absorbant self. That’s the cycle. That’s what helps the sponge to be able to bend and flex and hold so much.

My wish is that each of us gets soaked with exactly what we need over and over again. That we get filled and nourished to our very deepest parts. When we are, as we are, we can offer and receive. We can bend and flex.

I’m filled up by this special community of readers, seekers, and students every week and I’m thankful for each of you. Blessings to you and your dear ones on this day of Thanksgiving.

*******

Start 2017 off right!

Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali 8-week Workshop

c60a222648d350f0e6a193b3146ee9e9The Yoga Sūtras is an ancient and fundamental text of Yoga. Even though it’s over 2,000 years old, the 196 aphorisms continue to be relevant to our modern day practice and life. In this course, we’ll dive into the second Chapter and right into the heart of the yoga journey, looking at what yoga is and what it helps us overcome. Through chant, discussion and practice, we’ll learn how to cultivate balance, clarity, and more meaning in our daily life.

January 12th – March 9th, 2017 (no class 2/2)

Thursdays, 9:30 – 11:00am

Private Studio, SW Austin, TX

$150* through 12/15

click here for more info and to register:
https://www.amandagreenyoga.com/workshops-special-events/

 

The rewards of yoga practice (It’s not what you think)

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-8-49-00-am

When asked to chose her fav’ Austin destinations, this burger joint was at the top of her list. Extra pickles, two ketchups, please.

My husband makes me laugh harder and certainly more often than anyone else I know. He’s clever and light hearted. He can improvise a catchy song at the drop of a hat and has a knack for an Australian accent. He’s good for a deep belly laugh, but he’ll go for a chuckle, too. He’s good for some word play. Puns make our 12-year-old roll her eyes which makes the whole thing even funnier. This special kind of wit isn’t it’s reserved for the girls. When I come into the room after 20 minutes of Vedic chant practice, Dave finds a way to slip in how en-chanting he finds me. And after my yoga practice, he’s fond of asking, Did you get it right this time? I always smile but that one makes me think…

Why do we practice yoga? Are we doing yoga to get it right or to achieve some level of mastery? Are we going through the steps and ‘climbing the ladder’ because we believe there’s a reward wating for us at the top? Will yoga make us more deserving or more loveable? Is there something magic about the techniques that if we just get them right, they will transform us?

Even though I couldn’t have put these words to it before, this approximates my attitude. I’ve been bartering with my yoga practice. I put in my time, and yoga will repay me with more peace, ease in my body, more insight. The harder I try, the further I’ll go. Even though I know it doesn’t really work that way, it’s hard to give up the belief that I’m in control of yoga and what it does for me. It’s hard to let go of the sense that I can make it happen.

Lately, I can feel myself wanting something even more from my yoga practice. Through yoga, I can have feelings of profound connection to some deep essential part within me –a part that’s inextricably linked to the special thing inside of everyone else. This experience is an antidote to my long-time attachment to loneliness. I want more of that connected feeling. I want to remember that essential part. And, even though I don’t know exactly what it looks like, I want whatever comes next…on a tray… with pickles and two packets of ketchup.

Because I’ve been wanting more, I can feel myself trying harder. There’s a quiet urgency as I come to my mat in the morning. I’m reading books in hopes of uncovering a secret key hidden between the lines. I’m doing the stuff that I think I’m supposed to do, because I want to receive something in exchange. But there’s tension. I can know the motivation isn’t correct. There’s wisdom inside nudging me to remember that trying harder hasn’t been the way I’ve experienced personal growth in the past. It isn’t the way I’ve made strides in my self-understanding or my relationships. That growth always happens when I do less. It comes when I’m not begging for it. It sneaks in when I finally accept something about my life or myself, I soften and I let go of the struggle. When I make space and open to what is, that’s when something shifts. I don’t make it happen. It’s offered. Grace.

My practice is essential, not because it’s what’s required for spiritual advancement, but because it prepares me to recognize grace when it’s offered. Daily practice readies my system — body, breath, mind, personality and emotions, to function well and to be content and balanced through the dramatic ups and downs or while I wait. Īśvara pranidhana encompasses this notion of grace. I can do what’s best, not because I’m are striving for a particular result, but because it’s the right thing to do. It isn’t service performed in exchange for goods or reward.  It’s action without attachment to the outcome (Bhagavad Gita Ch 2:47).

We don’t have to work hard for it, but I think it is hard work to consistently see ourselves with a loving and honest lens. At least it is for me. But that’s exactly what practice can help us to find. Less effort or striving can nurture an internal environment that’s suited for this gentle, patient, compassionate work. It requires dedication, not because we’ll get kicked out of the club if we slack, but because having structure and regular committed time supports us along the way. It supports us while we wait.  It helps us know our true nature (YS I.3) and this mystery of receiving gifts of grace.

***I offer individual yoga sessions and support for those who would like to begin or deepen a personal practice.  You can read more about the process on this website or contact me  to learn more.  I’d be happy to hear from you!

When it’s unconscious, it’s easy to overlook

fullsizerender fullsizerender

 

The other day, my daughter walked home from school with our neighbors.   When I went by to pick her up, she was busy playing with her friends so I sat down with my neighbor and we visited. This neighbor and I have had some nice conversations since she moved in last year. We talk a lot about our kids and the neighborhood school. We might share how the most recent trip went or who’s coming in from out of town for a visit.  This time, sitting at her kitchen counter, we had a different kind of conversation.  We talked about experiences of motherhood and marriage. We shared stories about other times in our lives. I confessed that I kind of like my husband’s work-travel and that it’s been good for me and for our marriage. My neighbor talked about how she felt when she lived abroad, what her life was like when her oldest was a baby, and how she’s learned so much about herself since then. There were things I could relate to and things that surprised me about what she said. The conversation was less like neighbors chatting and more like the start of a friendship.

Later that evening, I was fondly remembering our conversation and I started to wonder… why did I find any of what my neighbor shared surprising? I didn’t know much about her and she hadn’t talked about any of those things before. Why wasn’t all of it just new information instead of surprising new information?  As I thought more about this, I realized that somewhere along the way, I created a story about her and her life. My mind filled in all the missing information about her with some made-up, inaccurate details. When my neighbor told me about her actual, interesting life, I was surprised because it didn’t match with the boring story I had written in my head.  Through that experience, my unconscious assumptions were brought to light and I sighed with relief. This is goodAs I become aware of these stories, I can do something about them. Yoga and meditation practice continue to provide me with tools for self-reflection. I’ve seen many old hurts healed and my life gradually transform by means of this ancient wisdom and personal practice.  But at almost the exact same moment I felt the relief, I had another not-so-pleasant realization: Wow. There are thousands of unconscious and inaccurate stories running in my head and influencing my interactions with people around me all of the time. A woman reminds me of an elementary school kid who snubbed me on the playground and I make snap judgement about her. Someone’s posture, expression, clothes, or tone of voice trigger feelings and reactions based on past experiences and that colors my interaction with the person in front of me. I’ve dedicated time and refection to stories of prejudice, racism, and sexism that are out there and in me causing harm, but those aren’t the only ones that are operating. I now see that all sorts of inaccurate stories and unquestioned assumptions can get in the way of connection, not just the obvious or alarming prejudices. These stories, any stories other than the one about the present moment, are obstacles to clear perception and can keep me from getting to know someone. I still have plenty of work to do.

We may not be aware that we are coming into a conversation with impressions and assumptions about a person, but I guess that’s the thing about the unconscious — It’s at work and we don’t even know it. Personalized yoga practice gives us space and time for self-reflection, and can help us uncover the unconscious stories that play a part in our relationships. Yoga is a whole-person experience. Movement, breath and meditation work on us in subtle yet profound ways providing tools to support clear perception about ourself and others. This visit with my neighbor helped me to see that any stories, even the ones that seem harmless or neutral, can cloud my ability to get to know an awesome person…. one who happens to live  right next door.

If you’d like to know more about how yoga can help you to be more present with friends, family, co-workers, and yourself, and watch these relationships improve, use the contact form to send me a note.  I’d be happy to meet with you for a complementary 15-min call.  It’s a great place to start, and there’s no obligation.  I hope to hear from you!

The air we breathe

Nora in a pink wig


On Saturday morning, I was sitting for my morning practice. Nora was up early and she came over to me wearing a bright pink wig and a belted tunic to announce that she was going outside. She walked to the door and as soon as she opened it, this damp, warm, earthy air pushed its way into the room and enveloped me. With my eyes closed, I could almost see this blanket of air moving in. This outside air was such a contrast to the cool, dry, climate controlled stuff I had been in. It brought with it all the wonderful smells that come after a rain and with the morning. I widened my nostrils to breathe it in and softened to better feel it on my skin. I was sad that it only lasted a few breaths. But I reflected on what was really gone — the delicious smells and the feeling of the moisture and the tangibility of the air. But, of course, the actual life-sustaining part still surrounded me and was in me. The air wasn’t gone, but my appreciation and awareness of it had changed.

Continue reading